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Santa has kicked the habit in time for Christmas. No, not the sugar plum habit, or his fur-wearing habit, or his penchant for romping recklessly around open flame.
No, gentlepeople, this is the year the man in red gave up pipe tobacco, at least in a new book version of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" that has received attention from some lofty corners, including the American Library Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The self-published Pamela McColl of Vancouver, Canada, has a mission for her story, to protect children and their parents from the ravages of smoking. She mortgaged her house and sunk $200,000 into her telling of the 189-year-old holiday poem, touring the states to promote it ahead of its September release.
What, particularly, did McColl do? She excised these lines: "The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth. And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath." And she added to the cover: "Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century."
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the ALA's deputy director for intellectual freedom, doesn't have a hard heart. But she doesn't see tobacco addiction when she considers what McColl has done. She sees "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer."
A publisher put out a combined version of those classics last year as edited by Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who replaced about 200 occurrences of the N-word with "slave." Of McColl, Caldwell-Stone said:
"This wasn't a retelling. This wasn't a parody. This wasn't an adaptation. This wasn't a modernization. This wasn't fanfic. This was presenting the original but censoring the content. That kind of expurgation that seeks to prevent others from knowing the original work because of a disapproval of the ideas, the content, is a kind of censorship that we've always disapproved of."
McColl said she's trying to offer one option among dozens of versions of the rhyme that helped launch Santa Claus as an icon. She wants to shake up complacency over tobacco addiction and believes the pipe and rings of smoke around his head do resonate with little kids who don't have the same Santa filters as the rest of us, especially those who have parents or other loved ones who smoke.
"To them, Santa's not some historical guy," McColl said from Portland, Ore., where she recently finished nearly a full year on the road. "He's a real character. He's a real person coming down the chimney, and he's smoking. That's what a 3-year-old thinks like."